I had never walked through something that hurt so deeply, it took my breath away.
Sure, I had watched friends walk through some really hard things; and I myself had a handful of instances or circumstances that would have qualified as challenging.
This was something chronic; something that would never go away on this side of heaven.
‘I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart…my heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes- it also has gone from me.’- Psalm 38:8,10
I wanted it to be like a neatly wrapped gift.
One which, when looked at carefully, could be untied perfectly and with much precision.
I would unwrap it in layers, and slowly but surely, this “gift” bestowed upon me would be completely open and bare.
Instead, it felt like I was the silver ball in a pin ball game.
Constantly moving forward, only to be thrown back into the same place yet again.
I had studied the stages, and because I could look back and see a nauseating amount of denial I had walked through in the beginning, I kept waiting for the anger to begin.
I thought if I could just move through the stages quickly, I would arrive.
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if anytime we walked through a trial it was so neatly tied together?
Method to the madness, if you will.
So hopeful for each of us to wake up from the bad dream that has become our life and begin actually living again.
You would walk through the stages, and then you would be done and able to move on past whatever said thing was consuming your days.
Kind of like scrubbing that blue marker off my sweet girls’ little legs.
This has simply not been the case for me; and it doesn’t seem to be the case for most I know who have walked through their own hards.
At the beginning of this journey, I found myself pondering this question a lot,
‘What stage of grief am I in?’
‘When will I hit the acceptance part so all these exhausting emotions will be over?’
While I started out in the denial stage, my specific journey jumped straight into acceptance shortly after; but the process was nowhere close to being over. These days, outside of the bargaining phase (one that, for whatever reason, has not been somewhere I have dwelled), I find myself dabbling in all of the stages from time to time; with no obvious logic in what made me jump from one into the other.
I fully believe that all the stages, all the emotions, are real in our trials. Anyone who believes being a Christian means always putting on a happy face has not read the Bible. After the Fall occurs in Genesis 3, the Scriptures are full of people walking through all kinds of things and experiencing all kinds of feelings. David is called a man after God’s own heart (by God Himself), and the Psalms (which David wrote) are full of all kinds of mourning and rejoicing, sometimes appearing to be an almost simultaneous expression.
Yet- when we fixate on the stages or emotions themselves, I believe we miss a crucial point to surviving whatever loss, tragedy, or other hard we are going through:
When you walk through life-changing suffering, it always stays with you. In some form or fashion, the baggage is permanently there. In light of that, without an eternal perspective, you will never be able to get out of the revolving door of grief.
Point blank, I would like to suggest that grieving really only involves two steps:
First, the temporary.
Then, the eternal.
The temporary includes all said stages- the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression, the acceptance. You may flash back and forth into various levels of these phases; yet awareness of the sixth stage- or the second stage, in this case- is the key to walking through life without constant damaged vision and blurred perspective.
Furthermore, my emotions and circumstances are never greater than my God, therefore, He can handle whatever physical or emotional toil I take to Him. I- we- can trust Him with whatever phase of grief we are in, knowing that ultimately, it is passing and fleeting.
Nothing is too heavy for the mighty arms of God.
All things, no matter how broken, can be made whole in His hands.
Before we step from the temporary to the eternal, there is this thing called death in between.
It feels ironic that so much of our grief is caused by this very thing we will all experience.
Yet, for a Christ-follower, death will simply be a marker magnifying the victory of God; a step into the wholeness and healing that will finally occur.
You see, death is coming for all of us, and what you think about death makes all the difference in how you live.
In this journey of grief, while it may sound bizarre to some, I have found so much hope in reading what God says about death.
Grief, like death, can feel so final.
‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.’- 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57
The final word has always been, and will always be, His.
You see, death-physical yes, but death in all its forms, whether sickness, or tragedy, or emotional toil- stings greatly on this side of heaven. Our flesh writhes in pain when faced with it, and it feels like the throbbing will never let up.
But- because of Jesus Christ-
The sting, the pain, the stages- they are but a breath.
And, because they are a breath, we can withstand and move forward-
Not without pain, but without stain.
To put it bluntly, grief will never have the final word.
In this journey, I have learned to embrace grief, knowing it has no power over me. I am not fearful of any emotion, however deep, for I know that my God is holding me and carrying me through it; and that He promises to use every ounce of it for His glory and my good. I am giving myself grace for whatever stage I am in, not feeling the need to overanalyze it; prayerfully taking it to the throne in hopes that I do not allow my open wounds to rub off on those around me.
Only He has the healing balm for our souls.
We can own what we are feeling without letting it own us.
God created us; therefore only He knows how to deal with the complexities of who we are.
While people can sympathize- only Christ has walked each of our hards, no detail missed, straight to the cross. He has the power to empathize with us in all things, for He has overcome all things.
Friends, this message is a heavy one, but it is one I pray sinks deep into your souls. I would not be human if I did not admit to my own emotional turmoil in this journey; yet I have learned that God is bigger than any trial I face and that He is working always. May we never just, ‘Put on a happy face’ for the sake of pleasing men. Instead, may we look to His face, knowing the victory has been won.
An eternal perspective found in exploring and believing that Jesus Christ nailed all our junk to the cross and overcame death by His own ressurection is the only way to walk through grief; not because it takes the hard away, but because it offers a Heavenly Hand and a healing balm with limitless measure.
If you are participating in the On Milk and Honey blog series, your Personal Growth Challenge this week is very simple:
Look up the song, “Sovereign Over Us” by Aaron Keyes and also, “Though He Slay Me” by Shane and Shane, and listen to one or both of these songs each morning as you rise. Really take in the words and what these lyrics are speaking to your heart.
For the Community Growth Challenge, I want you to talk about what it looks like to grieve with hope with a friend or family member. Use this time as an open conversation about what you both thought of this blog.
For the Pay-It-Forward Challenge, I encourage you to bring a meal, coffee, small gift, or whatever you feel led to bring, to someone who is in the early stages of grief.
Friends, God is greater.
He has the victory.
He is making beautiful things out of all of our hards; and nothing is a tragedy when viewed through His heavenly lenses.
Our grief is real yet our God is bigger.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…so we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”- 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18